International School Grounds Conference held in Lund 2016

Sweden, through the organizations Think tank Movium and the Municipality of Lund, will host the International School Grounds Alliance`s (ISGA's) fifth global conference from September 12-14 2016. Architects, landscape architects, planners, school leaders and educators from around the world will be attending the conference called “Green Grounds for Health and Learning”.

Landscape architect Petter Åkerblom, Coordinator of Think tank Movium for issues relating to children’s urban outdoor environments, and Anders Wånge Kjellsson, Director of the Nature School (Naturskolan) in Lund, are coordinating the preparations for the Conference. Lund is a Swedish municipality that has worked almost 25 years with organized school grounds development and has a network covering all the municipality’s schools and pre-schools.

Both Petter Åkerblom and Anders Wånge Kjellsson attended ISGA’s second conference in San Francisco in 2011 as Nordic representatives. The initiator of the conference was Sharon Danks from Berkeley, California. She has also – along with Mary Jackson, UK, and Cam Collier, Canada – initiated the formation of the International School Grounds Alliance, ISGA. ISGA organizes architects, landscape architects and planners as well as school leaders and educators. Besides Sweden, several US states as well as Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan and Australia constitute the organization today. Contacts are now also in Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia. In 2015 the fourth ISGA conference is taking place in Bali, and in 2017 the turn will come to Berlin.

The conference in Lund in 2016 has the themes of health and learning, and will include lectures with prominent keynote speakers, interesting break-out sessions and exciting field trips. One of the conference’s main tracks is advice and guidance for planning, design and management of school grounds and pre-school centers, says Petter Åkerblom.

“We will present various national policy documents, both Swedish and international. Through seminars, workshops and study visits, participants can learn how local plans can be adapted to the conditions of children’s development, through principles that should apply to the design of outdoor environments for children and young people.”

Conference participants will also be able to see how the communal property organizations can promote child development and appropriate activities in schools and preschools.

Health and learning are central concepts in the public debate today. The danger of too little physical activity combined with poor diet is not only a growing problem in Sweden but is a public health problem in many countries with Western lifestyle. ISGA believes that children will be both healthier and learn more if schoolyards are better developed and utilized.

“It is possible to link public health problems to falling results in Swedish schools. But the question is why Swedish students’ performance is getting worse in the PISA study? Too few make the connection to kids sitting still in school. Children can and should not sit still in their seats! We can raise these issues through developing the outdoor environment to stimulate play, social interaction, physical activity and learning,” says Anders Wånge Kjellsson.

ISGA has developed a manifesto of what School Grounds should be, The Westerbeke Declaration on School Grounds (greenschoolyards.org). The state government of California has now adopted a policy based on the manifesto. To obtain such an impact in other countries, states, regions and municipalities by lifting the thoughts of the Westerbeke Declaration is the ultimate goal for ISGA.

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Magnus Gustafsson

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